Delhi University saw another day of protests on Thursday as hundreds of ABVP student activists held a march against "anti-national activities", even as President Pranab Mukherjee, in his first comments on the controversy, said there should be "no room in India for the intolerant Indian". He also asked students to refrain from "propagating culture of unrest".
Meanwhile, Gurmehar Kaur, the student who launched a campaign against the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) after last week's clashes outside Ramjas College and kicked off a fierce debate on nationalism, has said she will never enter politics.
President Mukherjee, delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture in Kochi, said that India's institutions of higher education "must resound with creativity and free thinking". "Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," he said.
There should be "no room in India for the intolerant Indian". India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion," Mukherjee said.
Two Union Ministers, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar, jumped into the debate on nationalism, with Finance Minister Jaitley saying that nationalism was a good word in the rest of the world but not in India, while Defence Minister Parrikar said that freedom of expression should be within the legal ambit.
Amid the growing politics over the issue, 20-year-old student of Lady Shri Ram College, Gurmehar Kaur, said she was "saddened" that the issue had gained a political hue and clarified that she would never enter politics. Kaur had last week launched a social media campaign #studentsagainstabvp, angering the RSS-affiliated body, and getting trolled on social media. Her comment that Pakistan did not kill her father but war did, led to even a union minister suggesting that her young mind was being "polluted".
"The issue on which I spoke went out of hand. I would like to clarify that I do not want to enter politics," Gurmehar told Hindustan Times.
"I just gave my opinion, and I never expected the whole thing to take such a turn. I had a really bad time. I am not in a state to talk about it, and I cannot take it anymore," said Kaur, who left Delhi for her hometown Jalandhar in Punjab, following rape and death threats on social media.
On Thursday, around 1,000 members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad held a Protest March near the DU's North Campus Arts Faculty with students raising slogans like "Hindustan mein rehna hoga, Vande Mataram kehna hoga" (To live in this country, you have to chant Vande Mataram), "Na Marxwad, na Naxalwad, sabsey upar rashtrawad" (Nationalism is above Marxism and Naxalism) -- targeting the left-wing All India Students Association.
The ABVP demanded strict action against those who supported "anarchism and anti-India propaganda".
"You are free to have conferences and rallies but freedom of expression doesn't mean that you will divide the country. Shouting about Kashmir's or Bastar's freedom is an anti-national action," ABVP Media Convener Saket Bahuguna said during the protest. The ABVP had stopped Ramjas College from hosting a talk on February 21 addressed by JNU student Umar Khalid, who was named in a sedition case a year ago.
The CPI-M said the "vicious attack" on Kaur has "exposed the real nature of the nationalism the Sangh Parivar espouses."
Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said it is important to respond to the issues raised by Kaur than sidetrack them.
"Listen to her and respond to her if you have the guts," Sisodia said to a query on speculation that Kaur may be with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Kaur "is a daughter of this country, the daughter of a martyr", the AAP leader said. "Focus on what she said, the issues she raised."
The Delhi Police, probing last week's clashes, on Thursday said it has received 25 complaints regarding the February 22 violence at Ramjas College and begun recording statements of the complainants.